By winning the Russell Westbrook lottery, the Houston Rockets have successfully propelled themselves into the conversation of title contenders for the upcoming season. By pairing two of the league’s Most Valuable Player winners in the past three years, Houston have formed one of the most dynamic, exciting, and at the same time mind-boggling backcourt duos this league has ever seen.
Right now, the biggest question in the minds of analysts and casual basketball fans alike is this: how will Westbrook co-exist with Rockets superstar James Harden? Sure, these two have already played with each other during their time together with the Oklahoma City Thunder and have since remained friends. However, that seemed like ages ago, and so much has happened in the past seven years since they last shared the court as teammates.
This is definitely the biggest issue head coach Mike D’Antoni will need to hash through this summer. However, that is certainly not the be all and end all for the Rockets this offseason. The decorated coach still has the rest of the team to worry about, and at this point, Houston has yet to complete its roster.
The team did agree to sign veteran big man Tyson Chandler to a one-year deal recently, so that’s at least one major requirement the teams has been able to fill. Nonetheless, there remains to be a few roster spots available, and below, we’ve listed down three free agents the Rockets should consider to round out their squad.
Looking at Houston’s depth chart, some reinforcements in the two spot is obviously their biggest need, with Harden currently the only legitimate shooting guard in the roster at the moment. Iman Shumpert, who was actually part of the Rockets last season, might be a good place to start.
Shumpert arrived in Houston in the middle of last season as part of a three-team trade which involved the Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 6-foot-5 combo guard did not exactly have a memorable half season with the Rockets, averaging 4.6 points, 1.1 three-pointers, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.6 steals in 19.1 minutes.
Nonetheless, with the free agency market running thin, Shumpert — who has already somewhat acclimated himself in D’Antoni’s system and has earned a reputation of being a defensive specialist himself — should be available for a bargain. The one-time NBA champ earned $11 million last season, and might be willing to take a pay cut at this point.
Much like Shumpert, Thabo Sefolosha’s primary value lies in his defensive acumen. His length and versatility makes him a defensive asset on the wing, and should provide a boost for the Rockets in this respect.
Sefolosha spent the last two seasons with the Utah Jazz — both of which were marred by several injuries. This will be the biggest unknown for the 6-foot-7 guard/forward, and at 35, injury is obviously a huge risk. Nonetheless, when healthy, the former All-Defensive team member should be a solid piece in D’Antoni’s rotation, adding some much needed grit on both ends of the floor.
Over the past three years, Sefolosha has averaged 6.3 points, 0.7 three-pointers, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.3 steals in 20.1 minutes per contest. Barring any serious injuries, he should be able to provide some quality minutes off the bench for the Rockets.
Vince Carter because, quite frankly, why not? The 42-year-old will be entering his 22nd season (!) in what will be his swansong campaign. Throughout his memorable career, Carter has certainly done his part to bring the league to where it is today, and it is only right that he ends it alongside a historic backcourt pairing in Harden and Westbrook.
However, while Carter’s farewell tour narrative is something the Rockets could benefit from from a emotional standpoint, the former Rookie of the Year should still serve as a serviceable backup for the team. Carter has done well to evolve his game during the twilight of his career, and his three-point shooting from the wing (and even as a stretch four) is something the Rockets could surely use.
Last season with the Hawks, the eight-time All-Star averaged 7.4 points, 1.6 three-pointers, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.4 blocks in just 17.5 minutes per ballgame.
At the end of the day, the Rockets still have options. While the big names have already signed up for their respective new (and old) teams, there are still a number of hidden gems remaining in the market. At any rate, Houston don’t have much cap space anyway, so they will need to be realistic and look at players that will be able to add value to their team, without them having to dig too deep into their pockets.